By Joe McDonald
BEIJING (AP) -- A U.S. trade envoy has accused China's government of increasing its role in the economy in violation of its free-trade pledges and he appealed to Beijing to reconsider its embrace of "state capitalism."
The comments reflect a harder U.S. tone toward Beijing amid disputes over market access for banking and other services and complaints China is supporting its producers of solar power and other technology despite promising to allow free competition.
In a speech this week, the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization cited a "troubling trend" of increased Chinese government intervention in the economy over the past five years despite its WTO commitments to open its markets.
The ambassador, Michael Punke, made the comments Wednesday in Geneva, according to a transcript on the website of the U.S. Trade Representative's office. He was speaking at a WTO meeting for the tenth and final annual review of China's compliance with its WTO obligations since it joined the body in 2001.
"China seems to be embracing state capitalism more strongly each year, rather than continuing to move toward the economic reform goals that originally drove its pursuit of WTO membership," he said. "This is a troubling development, and the United States urges the Chinese government to reconsider the path it is on."
During a trip through Asia last month, President Barack Obama called on Beijing to show more maturity in its economic relations with other nations.
"Increasingly, trade frictions with China can be traced to China's pursuit of industrial policies that rely on trade-distorting government actions to promote or protect China's state-owned enterprises and domestic industries," Punke said.
China's trade and economy have grown rapidly since 2001, propelling it past Japan as the world's second-largest economy behind the United States and financing a military buildup that has alarmed its neighbors.
On Wednesday, China's Defense Ministry criticized Washington's strengthened military pact with Australia as a throwback to "Cold War thinking."
Beijing has alarmed foreign companies by unveiling initiatives to build up state-owned corporate champions in an array of fields from telecommunications to wind energy.
Business groups complain Beijing appears to be trying to squeeze foreign companies out of its clean energy and other promising industries. They have questioned whether the communist government wants to live up to pledges to allow foreign companies to compete on an equal footing with Chinese rivals.
Punke said that in its first five years of WTO membership, Beijing took "impressive steps" to reduce tariffs, eliminate trade barriers and improve protection for intellectual property rights.
But he noted complaints that Beijing tries to intimidate foreign companies, threatening to retaliate if they speak up about problematic policies or cooperate with their governments in challenging them.
Punke complained that Beijing appears to resort to trade actions in response to legitimate steps by the United States and other trading partners under their trade laws.
Last month, China launched a probe of U.S. government support for its solar, wind and other renewable energy industries after American authorities agreed to investigate a complaint by a group of companies that Beijing improperly subsidizes exports of solar panels and hurts foreign competitors.
"This type of conduct is at odds with fundamental principles of the WTO's rules-based system," Punke said.